Fraud of the Month – August

What a hero, Richard Meleski bleated about his harrowing exploits as a Navy SEAL during a covert operation in Beirut, Lebanon.

“18 hr hostile takeover. Became POW, during this tour. Beaten, shot, head injury, tortured. Hospitalized in Germany for injuries sustained. Crushed hand. Shrapnel,” the Chalfont, Pa. man wrote in applying for federal veterans medical benefits.

The physical and emotional trauma were overwhelming, he wrote. Meleski claimed he had post-traumatic stress disorder and injuries during his life-and-death escape from the supposed terrorists back in the 1980s.

Yet none of it happened. Meleski invented the elaborate fairytale to steal nearly $300,000 in healthcare treatment and $2,271 in prescription medicines from the Veterans Administration. His haul included monthly disability checks.

His scam is called Stolen Valor — inventing or embellishing military service.

Never served in military

In fact Meleski never served a day in the military. He lived in New Jersey during his claimed Beirut heroics.

Meleski took pains to invent convincing details. He injured his left knee jumping out of a window carrying a dead SEAL comrade on his back, he said. On top of that, Meleski said he suffered a traumatic brain injury when he leapt through the window.

The ordeal was so traumatic that he couldn’t speak for three months, he insisted.

Meleski even was awarded the Silver Star for his gallantry in action, he lied.

The story was convincing enough. As a former POW supposedly suffering from PTSD, Meleski was given priority over real veterans for healthcare. He received free treatment with no copays or premiums.

Meleski used the same phony military record to steal Social Security disability benefits. To lend that story credibility, Meleski included the obituaries of real Navy SEALs he lied that he served with.

Convicted of arson

While living in New Jersey during his claimed Beirut heroics, Meleski carved yet another trail of crime. He was convicted of arson four times, receiving 19 years total in prison. In one case, he set fire to a home where a priest and several nuns devoted their lives to solitary prayer.

Up to 68 years in federal prison awaits Meleski when he’s sentenced for his latest crime.

“Meleski faked a record as a decorated U.S. Navy SEAL in order to steal numerous forms of compensation,” U.S. Attorney William McSwain said.

“Everything about this case is profoundly offensive. Our veterans fought for the freedoms we hold dear, and we owe them a debt that we can never fully repay. But holding individuals like Meleski accountable for their crimes is one small way that we can honor our veterans’ service.”

About the author: Jim Quiggle is senior director of communications for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.